Jan 312020
best songs january 2020
A2VT – You Ma Numba 1

“African refugees in Vermont” is the elevator pitch, but their music offers so much more than just the human interest story. A duo of singers and rappers who go by Jilib and Pogi, augmented by a rotating cast of friends, they sing in English, Swahili, Maay Maay and a combination they refer to as “Swahenglish.” This infectious love song doesn’t hit as hard as some of the higher-energy songs on their great new album Twenty Infinity, but the joyous and insanely catchy chorus will burrow its way into your brain for days.

Couchsleepers – Half the Night

’70s pop-rock balladry meets Grizzly Bear on Couchsleepers’ new single, maybe the best preview yet for the band’s forthcoming debut album. Bonus points for one hell of a guitar solo, evocative and moving without wearing out its welcome.

D. French – Early

“I got the whole city jumping,” Dominic French exclaims at one point on “Early.” Presumably he means somewhere bigger than his hometown of St. Alban’s, Vermont (pop 6,918). But wherever he plays this, vertical motion may be incurred. As someone who grew up in Chicago in the ’90s, I appreciate any Dennis Rodman shoutout. And bonus points to producer GC Beats for the killer Eastern-inflected beat. I want whatever record he sampled that from.

Dead Man From Mars – daBadBoy

Have you heard 100 gecs? If you have, you probably have a strong opinion about them. This buzzy duo’s spastic 2019 debut often got tagged as the sound of the internet, all sorts of unrelated genres violently smashed together (they cite the “Hamster Dance” as a formative influence, which says it all). Dead Man From Mars’ new EP Fruity has that same unhinged energy, at times sounding like a half dozen radio stations playing at the same time. I mean that as a good thing. Your mileage may vary.

Eric George – The Fix

“All I got are these songs and a few good magic tricks,” Eric George sings on the chorus of “The Fix.” In his hands, that ain’t nothing. He third album of 2019 snuck in just under the wire in late December, a spare Americana set that blends solo folk songs like this one with full band roots-rock.

Garret Harkawik – A Collection of Works

Garret Harkawik is not the polo shirted man on the album cover. That’s Steve Kohlhase, the subject of a documentary about the man’s ten-year quest to find the source of a strange hum in his house. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t tell you whether he succeeds, but Harkawik’s soundtrack is one sound you won’t want to get rid of. The first eight tracks expand upon cues he created for the film, then this 13-minute closer pulls them all together into an intriguing ambient piece.

GOOD WTHR x SkySplitterInk – Tell a Friend

It may be rap on Soundcloud, but GOOD WTHR is far from “Soundcloud rap.” It hits harder, for one, drawing more from the aggressive energy of old-school MC’s than the chemically-laid-back young guns. On their new single “Tell a Friend,” producer SkySplitterInk gives rappers Pro and Kin a lilting beat to rhyme over while otherwise staying out of the way.

James and the Giant Sleep – My Friend the Apostate

Lotta Roald Dahl fans in Vermont, apparently – the aforementioned Couchsleepers recently changed their name from The Giant Peach. Christian James apparently doesn’t fear the Dahl estate’s litigious wrath, and more power to him (James and the Giant Sleep is a solid band name). This twisty rocker recalls any number of emo-adjacent bands on the Tooth & Nail roster in the ’90s – plus they might be drop a word like “apostate” too. If Bandcamp is to be believed, it’s only his second single. Off to one hell of a start.

Justin LaPoint – Wide Open Spaces

No, this isn’t a Dixie Chicks cover. Sonically, though, it’s close enough that I could imagine that trio doing a nice job with Justin LaPoint’s quiet folk-country. Particularly on that infectious chorus, where it already boasts a Chicks-ready backing arrangement.

PREECE – Take Our Time (Acoustic)

Any number of rock bands have been padded out EPs with superfluous “acoustic versions,” where the band makes their songs sound worse by playing them on an acoustic guitar while otherwise changing nothing (Jimmy Eat World just this week tried this live on “The Middle” – it didn’t work). Sean Preece’s Give Preece a Chance EP isn’t that. For one, he includes only acoustic versions. But more importantly, he dramatically twists five of his volume-knob-to-10 punk bangers into wholly new, quieter shapes. “Take Our Time” becomes a peppy strum-along. If the Ramones had taken to playing around campfires, it might have sounded like this.

Quasar Valley Band – To Be Absorbed

Releasing an EP on December 27 ensures a band will never appear on anyone but the biggest procrastinator’s year-end list. If the simply-titled QVB had come out a month prior, though, it would have earned a spot on our Best EPs of 2019 list. Because it is one of the best EPs of 2019 – even if it came out with only four days to spare.

Roost – Winners

“I hope it gets better!” Zack Schuster hollers repeatedly on “Winners,” as his eerily pitch-shifted echoes him back. One part post-punk and two-parts dance music of the sort that might get booked at a jam-band festival, it’s an odd and mesmerizing mix. The eight-minute runtime may seem excessive, but it just grooves along blissfully. Until the surprise ending, that is.

The Röse Parade – Mrzim Te

Who says guitar solos can only come in when the vocals drop out? On The Röse Parade’s album Hyena Dream Machine, guitars seem to solo whenever they damn well please. “Mrzim Te” eschews classic rock wankery, though, going for the dark and weird. Like Nine Inch Nails, but with Miguel on lead vocals.

SACHEM – Winter

Looking at that amazing album cover, it will not surprise you to learn this is a metal band. The Bandcamp description is equally memorable: “Evocative of frigid northeastern winters, “Hymns of Hunger” honors the liminal zone between times of dearth and times of hope. It pays homage to a dire, eternally famished demon whose hunt never ceases. It lulls you into trances with the sonic replication of a glowing horizon, red before an early sunset. And finally, it brings you high into the hills with ice tipped cliffs and miles of skeletal arms, bare and reaching toward a vacant light. Here, we are born into the cold. Here, we embrace it.”

Seamus Egan – Welcome to Orwell

Veteran traditional Irish musician Seamus Egan recently moved to the town that gave the song its name, and it forms a centerpiece of the Solas bandleader’s first solo album in 20 years, Early Bright. He writes of its inspiration: “After living in Philadelphia for many years, I moved from The City of Brotherly Love to the Green Mountains of Vermont. After many miles in a U-Haul I was ill equipped to drive, I came across this friendly sign. It made me feel better.”

Thomas Gunn – Virginia

You know the song “A Horse with No Name”? Well as Thomas Gunn makes clear right at the start here, his horse has a name: “Virginia.” Gunn: 1, America: 0 (actually, -1, just for naming their crappy band “America”). Gunn’s horse song starts with a similarly mellow folk-rope lope before going full grunge gallop in the chorus. Your shlocky-’70s-Neil-Young-ripoff fave could never.

Transitory Symphony – Robert Moses Causeway

Though he lives in Vermont, there’s a strong Long Island theme running through Jim Heltz’s latest album. Two separate songs are named after Oyster Bay; even Billy Joel doesn’t drop that many references! The beautiful instrumental “Robert Moses Causeway” might make the perfect soundtrack when you read Robert Caro’s Pulitzer’d Moses tome. You’ll just need to repeat the song a few (thousand) times.

Western Terrestrials – Automated Trucker Blues

The video for “Automated Trucker Blues,” off last year’s excellent The Clearlake Conspiracy, takes the band name literally: “Western” with the guys rocking some pretty swank Nudie suits and “Terrestrials” with unexplained UFOs hovering over the proceedings. The secret star of the show, though, is the old cowboy in the background flipping them off.

Check out the out previous best-of-the-month lists here.

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